A Travellerspoint blog

Palawan


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After our foray in to Manila, we got on a plane south-west bound to Puerto Princesa - the main (capital) city on the provincial island of Palawan. The Philippines is made up of 7,641 islands so it's really quite spread out and not overly accessible given the amount of sea between each place. Palawan is a long thin island and we were based in Puerto Princesa (near the middle and on the east coast) for our time there.

After leaving Manila we were hoping to retreat to some tropical paradise but we were again slightly disheartened when we arrived on Palawan. The drive to our hotel took us past hundreds of ramshackle houses (more like corrugated iron sheds) surrounded by litter, at least two stray dogs per person we saw, small lots of barren land for sale sprinkled with rubbish, and lots of shacks lining the roadsides. It was a lot less chaotic than Manila and I'm sure a lot safer, but still felt a bit bleak. It was clear we were in a more developing country and that living standards here were a lot lower. Occasionally there would be a house made from brick or some other material. Again we noticed a lot of children and people barefoot just sat around on the roadside. Cars weren't common - you'd mainly see people on scooters or tricycles (like rickshaws) which acted as taxis, or sometimes a mini van usually owned by a hotel or other shuttle service. Scooters would often be parked inside people's living areas which were tiny and dark - probably deliberately dark because of the heat.

The hotel we stayed at was beside a strange beach - a vast expanse of wet sand and mangrove trees. I think it had originally been a mangrove swamp area (not a dark muddy swamp but a sandy one) and had been cleared of trees to allow people to enjoy the beach. It wasn't like a normal beach - the sand was always wet with a mud-like consistency, thus it wasn't the sort of place you could have a sunlounger as it would slowly sink. The sand area went on for a long way out before you reached the sea, and in between times you would come across hundreds of crabs, hermit crabs, and starfish in the trapped seawater. It was extremely quiet and felt quite isolated. The beach didn't really belong to the hotel, it just seemed that land merged in to other pieces of land and no-one really owned anything - a bit like any land around the houses which had no edges. That land couldn't really be classed as a typical garden as there was nothing green, and often just covered in litter and a few chickens with no boundary to the road or anywhere else.

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^Crabs

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There was nothing in Puerto Princesa that really held any interest for us and a couple of times in the evening we took our hotel shuttle to a mall just so that we had something to do and could go out for dinner as we decided against the hotel food. We were surprised to find a mall there actually, and even more surprised when we saw that although it was quiet there were still plenty of locals. I am still not sure whether people living in the corrugated iron sheds went shopping in malls: we thought they surely didn't have the disposable income given the state of their houses. Perhaps the people there were really just the elite - it wasn't possible to tell by their appearance but they didn't seem overly wealthy. There was a supermarket at the mall so we picked up some items from there too. Interestingly during the elections they stopped selling alcohol during voting hours. Perhaps part of the campaign for the elections to appear proper. Another example of the culture that wasn't for us in The Philippines was when we visited a shop to buy a new camera strap (we'd accidentally left ours in another hotel). There were no prices on anything and after all the staff swarming around us we asked for the price for a very flimsy camera strap. They just came out with something ridiculous that equated to about £15. Of course we didn't buy it and we weren't even prepared to barter at such a stupid starting price; it was probably only worth about £1!

We took a couple of day trips to see other parts of Palawan. We had considered visiting El Nido in the north of the island which people seemed to rave about, but it was such a long journey away (at least 5 hours by bus but we were told it would take a lot longer). Instead we did a day trip to see the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Underground River about 50 miles away. We donned mandatory life jackets and safety helmets to go in to the turquoise water and in to the huge cave system.

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We quite enjoyed it and the water was really clear and beautiful. We also saw, on the minibus on the way there, that there were areas/villages which still had no electric or running water. Lots of people were sat on the side of the road or lining up to vote. There were long queues for polling stations which we hadn't expected (more about that later).

We also did a day trip to Honda Bay, which is the access point for island hopping. Whilst the sea and islands are beautiful, the tourist element ruins this a little bit as it can feel a bit crowded. Here are a few pictures we took whilst island hopping (we didn't take any of the groups of people!).

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After Palawan we got a flight to the island of Cebu, further east. We had decided to travel from there to an island called Bohol, and then from there to a smaller island just across the water called Panglao. It's often not possible to fly directly to your destination given that there can't possibly be an airport on every island, so journeys often involve a boat trip or two.

Posted by TashandTim 04:30 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Manila... not a pretty sight


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After a wildlife bonanza in Borneo we headed off to The Philippines. Our first stop was a couple of nights in Manila, the capital, though some of the time either side was taken up by travelling so we only had one proper day there. Unfortunately we ended up HATING Manila. The good news was that we were only there for a short while - maybe if we'd had longer we'd grow to love it... but I'm not sure!

Our experience started off badly before we'd even left the airport grounds, and was probably indicative of the problems rife in The Philippines. A bit of a long story but basically a policeman tried to scam us at the airport (yes, a real policeman!). We weren't scammed so it was ok, but after that we certainly realised that you have to be really careful who you trust. Sadly we found that corruption in The Philippines is common and widespread, and that authorities are particularly bad. Our drive to our hotel took an hour and a half instead of 20 minutes. The traffic, and chaos, in Manila is very hard to imagine. Unfortunately we didn't take any photos but now we wish we had done! We were pretty shocked at the state of the place. We hadn't really considered that there would be such disparity between Malaysia and The Philippines, but we soon realised it was very different. There were endless big piles of rubbish at the side of the road with people rifling through them, gangs of barefoot children (some of them only about 4 years old) trying to steal motorbikes, disabled children wandering in the middle of the main road with hardly any clothes on, groups of people loitering by the road side, slums, and just generally many uncomfortable sights. The city we experienced was the worst place we've been. We could have visited an area called Makati outside the city which was more modern and sterile, but the 'real' Manila (i.e. the whole city itself) is really quite awful, crime-ridden, and hopeless.

Our experience was further hampered by a tense political situation. There were elections due in a couple of days and political rallies were taking place. More about the interesting elections later on a future blog entry. On our only day in Manila we had booked an organised walking tour which we were looking forward to (the idea of having a chaperone appealed, given our experience thusfar!). Due to the political situation our tour was cancelled (as the city was deemed unsafe due to violence) and so we were actually holed up in our hotel all day. You can imagine how we felt about that - thankfully we had a really nice hotel (in the middle of a horrible area) and we had already been upgraded to an extra large room with two huge beds. This is how we spent most of our time in Manila during that day:
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Though I did also have a massage at the hotel spa where I experienced the art of glass suction tumblers being heated up and stuck on your back.

Thankfully our hotel had a roof with a pool so we also spent some time up there, and we also watched the sunset on our two nights. Manila has great sunsets over the bay and we had considered doing an evening cruise. But then we realised Manila Bay smelt horribly of sewage and we would be much happier just watching the sunset from the roof which was fairly high up. Some nice vivid sunsets:

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We did actually leave our hotel on foot to pick up some supplies (chocolate, water, the usual). We found groups of people just loitering around staring at us and generally looking shifty. There were a few people lying on the pavements asleep and children wandering around half dressed. There was also a lapdancing club across the road which boasted a free shuttle service from all hotels - I only ever saw the shuttle bus turn up once with one lone pensioner. We saw the dancers turning up for each shift and the unsavoury Filipino guys who must 'manage' it (again, lots of loitering). We also noted several suspicious looking couples entering our hotel (Filipino women/ladyboys with western guys of a certain age who weren't staying at our hotel). So despite our sheltered stay we did see a tiny slice of life in Manila, and that was enough for us.

After another crawl along the road to the airport, and avoiding the various people trying to con you along the way, we set off for the island of Palawan and to Puerto Princesa.

Posted by TashandTim 08:39 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Our Schedule From June

We posted our original itinerary here:
http://tashandtim.travellerspoint.com/6/

We've completed this now as we're behind on updating our blog (so we're now in Bangkok). We need to do blog entries for the bits we've missed out so far (The Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand - though we've only been in Bangkok a couple of days so far), so we'll get round to doing that when we can! We didn't really have much idea of what we were doing after today until just now, so here's the plan...

5th - 8th June: Bangkok, Thailand
8th June: Flight to Surat Thani, Thailand and then a bus and ferry to Koh Samui, Thailand
8th June - 20th June: Koh Samui
20th June: Bus and ferry to Surat Thani, then flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
20th June - 24th June: Kuala Lumpur
24th June: Flight from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland, New Zealand (via Gold Coast, Australia)
25th June: Auckland, New Zealand
26th June: Probably travel to Hamilton with friend

We will only be in New Zealand for a short while - to activate our visas and do some official stuff (sign for bank account in order to get debit card and so on) and we plan on staying with a friend in Hamilton but we're not yet sure when we'll leave. Once we do leave we'll be off to Fiji and Australia (not necessarily in that order) for some travelling before returning to New Zealand again :-)

Posted by TashandTim 03:46 Comments (0)

Bye Bye Borneo!


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After we finished on our tour, we got a small plane from Lahad Datu to Kota Kinabalu in the north west. It's the capital of Sabah, which is one of the two states in Borneo that belong to Malaysia and we had spent all our time in Sabah during our trip (the other state is called Sarawak). Kota Kinabalu itself isn't very big and there isn't loads to do there, but we spent 4 nights there to unwind a little bit after all the difficult trekking we had done. Our hotel room had a separate lounge and kitchen and we were overjoyed at getting air conditioning again! We had been struggling without it for nearly a week and on top of all of the physical exercise we were probably not sleeping very well due to the heat. It was also nice to have some internet access as we needed to book future hotels and so on.

We visited a couple of malls in Kota Kinabalu and they were strange; either they were very dated, slightly claustrophobic, market-type places or they were modern and mainly empty. We did wander around the city a bit but given the fact we didn't take any photos I think it means there was little to see! It probably also felt a bit strange having come from the luscious jungle to an unremarkable city. We decided to do an island hopping trip with some snorkelling visiting the Tunku Abdul Rahman marine park. We'd read a few reviews about how bad the boats can be from the main piers, so we decided we'd take a trip leaving from the Shangri-La hotel as they had their own marina and boats (and we thought given the prices of the hotel their boats would be decent). Getting there was quite amusing as our taxi driver spoke hardly any English and had no idea how to get us to the marina entrance (we later found out the road to the marina had been removed) so we had to get dropped off in a car park and then break in to the hotel complex through a maintenance gate.

We stopped at three islands during the trip and it was ok, but the islands were all quite busy. We were also unconvinced about the marine conservation park that the islands sat in as the coral had been totally destroyed in some places by snorkellers and there were a lot of visitors. It felt like the tourism was doing more harm to the coral and wildlife. You are supposed to avoid standing in the water (as this causes the coral to break and die) and avoid wearing flippers, but the rules are not enforced at all, so there are hundreds of people doing both - mainly Chinese tourists I think. We avoided taking photos of the crowded snorkelling areas.

The sea was still a lovely shade of blue and we saw some fish, but it wasn't the same as our fabulous experience in Redang, Malaysia. It was also nice to see another monitor lizard - one of my favourite animals from the trip.

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One of the things we saw whilst looking in the rock pools was this creature below, which I found quite fascinating. It was determined to remove a limpet from the side of a rock and kept pulling at it and then swimming off to hide until the current allowed it to swim back again. It got there in the end and then shot off clinging on to the limpet. We found out it was a peacock mantis shrimp - a kind of thing we've never really seen before.

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After a few days in Kota Kinabalu it was time to say goodbye to Borneo and to Malaysia altogether as we took a flight to our next country: The Philippines.

Posted by TashandTim 00:49 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Borneo - Part 7 - More Rainforest and Animals


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We left Lahad Datu in a Hilux with a driver and guide to make the journey to the rainforest lodge for the next couple of nights. As we were driving out of the city I saw a monitor lizard waltzing down a side street! We drove for a while and then started on the very bumpy track to get to the lodge, situated in Danum Valley which has around 438 km (272 miles) of protected forest. The lodge is surrounded by forest and the nearest town is Lahad Datu (at least 2 hours away) so it really feels in the midst of the rainforest. Our room had a lovely balcony overlooking the river and the rainforest, and we even had a hottub on the balcony (I discovered it took about 45 minutes to fill up with water, which was the downside as we rarely had time in our room given all the hiking - and when we did we just wanted a quick shower and to go to bed!).

We did a lot of walking in Danum Valley and it was really hard work especially given the humidity. It's really hard to envisage the scale of the landscape until you are there - the trees are ridiculously tall. Here's a picture of a few of the trees near the lodge (before the rainforest becomes very dense) which might give an idea of the average tree height:
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One morning we got up early to walk across the tree-top canopies high above a lot of the forest. These featured in lots of newspapers when William and Kate visited in 2012:
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Very early in the morning there is a heavy mist that covers some of the trees and hills around Danum Valley. This usually clears as the sun rises. Leech socks are compulsory - we had pictured some form of high tech sock but they are really like stockings you'd hang up for Christmas with a drawstring around the top! You just wear them over your normal socks to prevent leeches getting to your legs. It was drier than usual when we visited which meant that leeches were less common. There had been less water due to unusually dry weather (and this has been the case in many areas in south-east Asia who are waiting for the rainy season as they are desperate for water for the crops).

We saw an amazing array of animals during our stay, though it is much harder work to get to many of them than our previous locations. A 3 hour trek in the rainforest is much harder work than someone taking you out in a boat down the river! Again it is essential to have a guide as it's often impossible to see any of the animals yourself. They can also track many of the animals by scent (!) and know which paths to take through the forest. Here are a few of the smaller animals/insects that I found interesting (and I doubt I'll see many of them in the wild again):
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^A 'roly poly bug' which curls up like this when touched or vulnerable. When uncurled it looks like a gigantic woodlouse. Like many things in Borneo, it is huge - around the size of a fist!
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^Geckos are really common around Asia and elsewhere. We saw this one next to our feet at breakfast one day. It was inching closer and closer to the injured/dying moth to capture its own breakfast, but eventually got scared off by a waitress walking past.

One day we went swimming in the huge river running through the forest. We made sure there weren't any crocodiles in this one! It felt strange to swim in a river, particularly one so deep in the rainforest. The current was quite strong and we couldn't see the bottom, but there were a few fish nibbling at our feet! They eat dead skin, like the fish you find in some spas (only much bigger fish in the river). The area we swam in was the elephant pool - i.e. where the elephants bathe as it is a large deep area - Asian elephants sometimes pass through the Danum Valley but it's very rare to see them.

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We saw a few interesting plants in Danum: quite a pretty mushroom:
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And a mushroom that only lasts for a few hours before dying off - so it's very rare to see:
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Of course we saw many other animals during our trip. We were amazed when our guide found two tiny bats asleep in a curled up banana leaf plant - totally invisible to anyone passing by. To get this photo we had to place our camera down the curled up leaf from above:
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We were extremely lucky to get the chance to see wild orangutans as they are very difficult to find. They live very high up in the trees and, despite their seemingly ginger fur, are excellent at hiding themselves in trees. There was a family group, including a baby, and even rarer - a dominant male. Again these photos are taken with a strong zoom - the orangutans are usually invisible from eyesight alone! The guide was able to track the orangutans by scent!
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^You can identify a dominant male by the face - it is flatter and wider with sides that extend outwards.

One of our highlights from our entire trip thusfar was a nighttime walk. We headed out with a couple from Germany who live in Singapore and we had great fun with them. Our guide took us along the paths in the forest where it was very dark. He had a spotlight and pointed out animals that he'd find along the way, and again we just couldn't believe how he could even start to find things.
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^A tiger tarantula in a tree. No idea how the guide spotted this! We saw several other spiders at Danum Valley - other types of tarantulas, jumping spiders, a wolf spider, and an orb weaver.

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^A tarsier, the world's smallest primate - only around 10cms (just under 4 inches) in size

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^A tree frog

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^We found three tree frogs on one branch!

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^A very big centipede. Apparently they are very aggressive and poisonous.

One morning we got up extremely early to hike to a viewpoint up a huge hill (covered in rainforest). It was really tough. We arrived at the top at around 8am to watch the sun rise and burn off the heavy mist/fog covering the valley which was quite a sight.
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^Here you can see a small part of the river and some roofs which form part of the lodge we were staying at.

After the sunrise we visited the cliff edges which local tribes used as a kind of cemetery. They would carry coffins containing their dead relatives up the hill (I have no idea how they would manage this as we struggled just walking ourselves) and then precariously place the coffins in holes on the side of the cliff. They have now removed many of the coffins, but there are still some remains. Here are some bones...
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Traditionally some of the local tribes were headhunters - i.e. they would hunt other people and remove and keep the heads of their victims. Our guide came from a headhunting tribe. Thankfully they stopped that practice a while ago.

The rarest animals in Danum Valley are the rhino and clouded leopard, which are nearing the point of extinction. Our guide explained that he spent several weeks on an expedition with scientists to track rhinos, camping in the rainforest each night. They didn't see a single one. But they did find some droppings. He's never seen a rhino in his entire time in the valley and he's a local who can track animals by scent! So of course we didn't see any rhinos or leopards and it just goes to show how rare these animals are and how desperately they need protecting. It's funny to think they are out there somewhere whilst we are hiking around, swimming in the river, or watching the sunrise. Maybe they were even watching us somewhere!

Eventually it was time to bid farewell to Danum Valley.
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We packed our bags and were driven to Lahad Datu airport for a flight to Kota Kinabalu. The airport is just for internal flights on small planes and is tiny - just one small room with a check in desk where they literally pass your bags to the man standing behind them who takes them to the plane. There is no aircon so it's not pleasant, and there is a small counter selling a few drinks and crisps in the corner. There is just one other small room full of seats next to the runway where you walk to your plane. It really didn't seem like an airport at all. Rather amusingly we heard someone ask at the check-in desk whether there was a duty free shop which made us giggle.

Posted by TashandTim 02:21 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Borneo - Part 6 - The Caves


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I forgot to mention in our last entry that during our nighttime river safari we got to see spectacular skies. We stopped in the middle of the river and switched the spotlight off for about five minutes so that we could see clear skies full of a blanket of stars. We could even see the Milky Way! It was totally silent apart from the sound of the river, and it was one of our highlights of the trip so far as it was so mesmerising.

The time came to leave Sukau and again we boarded a boat, this time to be taken a short distance down the river to a road. We were then taken by land to Gomantong Caves which were... interesting. We had to wear a face mask and the smell was overpowering - a very strong ammonia smell from all the birds and bats living inside the caves. I'm not sure how many birds there are but there must be thousands - there are at least 276,000 bats! The caves are manually harvested with tall ladders and bamboo sticks for birds nests to make birds nest soup. This is a controlled process (after the swiftlets have fled the nest) and we were told the vast majority of the nests are exported to China and can be sold for a small fortune. There is a guard's house inside the cave and the nest collecting is an ancient tradition. The caves are also covered in cockroaches - all over the floor like a moving carpet, and the walkway. So it's best not to hold on to anything!

Entrance to the caves - guard's house on the right hand side:
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Apart from the millions of cockroaches there were also other insects inside...
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In the wetter areas crabs feed on the decaying matter that falls to the floor (and unfortunately live deep in the mud comprised of waste of other animals... not a place I would like to be a crab).
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Outside we saw a Hornbill eating a bat!:
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After we exited the caves and finally got some fresh air, we concluded that the slightly uncomfortable sights and smells inside were of particular interest to males. A Russian guy in our group told me, very excitedly, that the caves felt like a "scene from hell" whilst his wife waited outside as far away as possible looking distinctly unimpressed.

There is some forest around the caves and we were quite lucky to see a new type of monkey in the trees - a red leaf monkey. They have strange little faces compared to the various Macaques and Proboscis monkeys we had been very familiar with.
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After that unusual visit we got back on the road for a couple of hours, mainly driving through palm plantations the whole time which was very sad given that it should all be rainforest, and then stopped at Lahad Datu. Another 'beware' zone on the travel map due to kidnappings and piracy, but again we saw nothing of note!

Our next stop, and final leg on the Borneo tour we were part of, was an award winning rainforest lodge deep in the middle of nowhere and only accessible by around 2 hours on a bumpy dirt road. In Lahad Datu we had to change vehicles for the new terrain, and climbed in to a souped up modern Hilux. So this time just the two of us sat in the back with a guide and a driver. It made for a nice (luxurious) change and we were very content!

Posted by TashandTim 19:49 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Borneo - Part 5 - More Sukau Animals


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We had another full day in Sukau going out to spot animals. It started with a 5.30am boat trip down the river and on to a lake. We saw plenty more monkeys, including managing to capture Proboscis monkeys swinging in the trees. They are great to watch as they are so big compared to the small macaques. Here is one in mid flight:
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We saw lots of Hornbills during our time in Borneo. There are 8 types, all different looking, of which we managed to see 5. They are interesting colourful birds and can sometimes be found in groups. Here is a Wrinkled Hornbill in a tree:
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We were lucky to see a snake as well, but it was difficult to see in the trees. We have no idea how the guides spot things as the animals are so well hidden. Our photos are taken with a strong zoom, usually somewhere in the thousands of trees on the river bank when we are in the middle of the river, so the wildlife is often totally invisible to any normal human being.
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Our second crocodile in Sukau:
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And our third:
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We were also really pleased to see a monitor lizard in the trees on the river bank (again this was totally invisible to any normal person!):
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We have photos of so many more animals from Sukau that it's impossible to show even a fraction of them on here. We created a whole album just of 60 pictures of birds, with many different types from birds of prey to tiny ones. We will have to create another of all the other animals we saw and share it with you. We have thousands of pictures and it takes a long time to go through them, and unfortunately we haven't always had enough time to do this whilst travelling. At the moment we're actually in Vietnam and very far behind on this blog but we haven't even had half an hour free until this point to write!

Here we are in the boat with our guide (smiling at the back) and some of our group:
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When we were back at the lodge the chef spotted a flying lemur in the tree. Again this was very high up and very hard to spot. It even had a baby. They are curious creatures and we knew little about them until we saw one and then looked it up afterwards!
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We did a night time river cruise on our second-to-last night in Sukau. A guide takes an extremely powerful spotlight and you look for wildlife in the dark. During our evening boat trip were fortunate enough to see another crocodile...
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... as well as an owl who had a poorly eye/was blind:
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... and plenty of other animals.

On our final day in Sukau we had a massage, strolled around the lodge's boardwalk and off through their jungle path. By this point we were struggling without aircon in our bedroom (there was no aircon in the entire resort) and we had to throw ourselves in the rainwater dip-pool (not big enough to swim) a couple of times. We were amazed at the amount of animals we managed to see during our time in Sukau, though we later discovered this was because of the deforestation around the area which meant there was only certain areas of rainforest left within which the wildlife is all concentrated because it has nowhere else to go. It's quite sad thinking about this and seeing the area surrounded by hundreds of miles of palm plantations, effectively trapping the animals in one area (many of which have already of course died out or become extinct due to loss of habitat).

The next day we left Sukau and carried on our journey south-west, so I'll carry this on next time!

Posted by TashandTim 03:37 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Borneo - Part 4 - Sukau


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Sorry that these entries are short and not covering a long period of time. The internet has been so slow that it's taken forever to upload photos and publish text, so I've had to keep them short thusfar. I'll aim for this one to be longer now that we have a more steady connection.

So after we arrived in Sukau we were soon off out on a boat trip. This time we took a smaller open boat with our small group and guide (instead of the power boat that transported us from Sandakan) and travelled up the Kinabatangan River on a wildlife safari to spot animals. We loved it and saw tons of animals in the wild. It's impossible to include details of every animal we saw, so we'll just highlight a few. One of the many species of Kingfisher in Borneo is the Stork-billed variety which was a colourful and pretty sight on a branch over the river:
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We saw hundreds of monkeys during our time in Sukau. Here is a macaque and her baby in the background:
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The unique-looking Proboscis Monkeys live along side the river too and can only be found in Borneo. The males have huge pendulous noses, up to 7 inches long. Our guide explained these are functional for various reasons, including acting as a sound amplifier so their calls are louder and travel further. Here is a male we spotted sitting high amongst the trees:
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And here is a female with her baby:
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Unlike orangutans, the other monkeys in Borneo tend to live in groups. Usually a dominant male lives with a family group, and sometimes there are groups of bachelors which are all males who are either adolescent, have not yet wooed the lady monkey of their dreams, or have been cast out of their previous group by the arrival of a new dominant male. Living in groups means that we often saw large numbers of monkeys at any one time, which was great for us. Our guide was also sensible and sensitive to wildlife (as I believe all/most of the guides are that operate on the river) and we always stayed a set distance away and never felt we were harassing the animals. The monkeys were always content with us there as we were always far enough away to not be a threat. Most of our photos are taken with a strong zoom lens as the monkeys were often high up in the trees.

We were ecstatic when we got the chance to see saltwater crocodiles in the river. They are not always easy to spot and often disappear silently once they realise a boat is nearby. Again we were lucky as many other groups did not see any crocs. During our time at Sukau we saw several, ranging in size from small to very large. This was our first sighting where we only managed to capture the head of a large one - probably over 6 metres in size in total according to our guide (they can estimate the size based on the head):
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Back at our lodge there was a crocodile skeleton which they had obtained after a crocodile was killed by locals (we don't know much more about the story other than they asked if they could keep the skeleton). It was a huge specimen - over 7 metres (30 foot) long. They also had the wooden boat that was used by David Attenborough who stayed at the lodge whilst filming for TV on the very river outside. A room at the lodge was named after him.

We returned to our lodge around 7pm and were all provided with traditional local sarongs to wear for dinner. They were very comfortable and kept our legs hidden from the mosquitoes. Over dinner we chatted to the other members of our tour group which was only small but diverse enough. We met a couple who live in Shanghai, China, but one of them is English and the other Australian. We often sat with them and chatted away throughout the trip. We also had a Dutch family of 3 who were brilliant at spotting animals and who stayed with us for the full tour. We also met someone from Lichtenstein (a first) and his Swiss girlfriend.

We went to bed pretty early that evening as we new we'd have a tough job getting up at some mad hour the next day. We found the lack of air conditioning very difficult to deal with. It was an 'eco' tour that we were on and hence we were staying in environmentally friendly lodges. I had been keen on this idea (as Tim liked to remind me) but I hadn't fully appreciated the horrible sweaty nights we would have to endure without aircon. I think everyone struggled. Thankfully we had a single bed each!

The next morning we had an extremely early wake-up call and headed out on an early morning river safari. We took this photo which shows the early morning sun, and another boat similar to ours but more densely packed from a different lodge (the river wasn't at all busy and there are only a few small lodges for tourists, but this photo shows the kind of boat we went out on each day):
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More animals to come next time...

Posted by TashandTim 02:29 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Borneo - Part 3 - Elephants!


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After our final night in Sepilok, we checked out of our chalet and said farewell to Basil the bat. Then we met a few other members of our small tour group and boarded our tour bus to Sandakan, stopping on the way for a buffet lunch. We had a two and a half hour boat trip up the Kinabatangan River to get to our next destination, which was a small place called Sukau on the riverbank. We'd read that the area we were travelling through had been declared somewhat dangerous due to armed pirates operating on the river, but they must have had the day off when we made our journey.

We loved the boat ride, even though it was pretty noisy and a bit uncomfortable. Our boat driver made sure we whizzed round corners and sped along sideways at points which made it loads of fun. Look how happy Tim was:

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We came across a point where the river met the sea and salt and fresh water mixed and we had to stop at a check point which was one of the measures introduced by the government to make the rivers safer. It didn't take very long and we were soon on our way again. Along the river there were occasionally small villages which appeared to consist of tin shacks, but as our guide explained, these didn't belong to poor people. He assured us that despite the appearance of the shacks to outsiders (I think he was mainly referring to westerners) the residents would own 50 inch TVs and were relatively wealthy.

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The river changed from a dark blue to more of a brown colour as we progressed further down towards Sukau. Imagine our delight when we then were extremely lucky to spot a herd of pygmy elephants grazing at the banks of the river. This was not a common sight and we were so happy we got the chance to see them. We were the only group in Sukau who had this opportunity (there were various different groups arriving each day). It was estimated there were 20-30 of them, though many were hid behind the large grasses on the river banks. It was especially rare to see one in the river, eating, like this:

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After the skies turned stormy and we had torrential rain and wind which blew through the boat and got us rather wet for about half an hour, we reached our lodge in Sukau which is one of National Geographic's "Unique Lodges of the World". We had a nice cold towel waiting for us before we checked in to our room, which was the first time we would forgo air conditioning...

Posted by TashandTim 05:33 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Borneo - Part 2 - A bit more of Sepilok


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After our first full day in Sepilok at the orangutan and sunbear sanctuaries, we had an evening walk to spot wildlife with a guide. Thankfully he had a powerful torch as we discovered our small LED torches were totally useless! We weren't sure what to expect so were really pleased when he spotted a snake really early on in the walk. Here is said snake, a pitt viper, in one of the trees:

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Earlier in the day we took a picture of some ants, below. They're quite large in Borneo, but they have over 700 species of ant! Nothing unusual about seeing ants, but it was interesting watching them carry something as a team. We also saw a HUGE ant on our night-time walk (seriously it felt like it was the size of a hand!) but sadly we didn't get a photo.

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One of the main things the guides look for is the flying squirrel, which we saw but couldn't photograph. It glides between the trees very high up and is quite a sight as it opens up to form a cape to glide with. They're far too quick to take pictures of.

We also saw a flying lemur, a really curious animal and probably a bit of a mystery from this photo!
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It's hard to get across a sense of scale in some of the photos we have taken. Everything in Borneo is either huge or miniature. The trees are ginormous. Likewise there is also a giant squirrel - and it really is giant - 70 to 79cms long (27 to 31 inches). Later on in our tour we discovered Borneo is also home to the pygmy squirrel AND a normal squirrel! But here is the only giant one we saw on our trip - and it was huge but this photo is deceptive:
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Finally, we had someone living directly above our front door at Sepilok. The first night we stayed there we were unlocking our door to our chalet and something dropped on our heads. We jumped, as you are usually aware of anything sudden in Borneo in case it's some kind of giant bug (or something more unusual). When we looked down we saw a large fruit/seed pod of some kind had fallen on us. We were perplexed as we couldn't see anything at all. Eventually we discovered, via the power of camera zoom, a fruit bat living directly above our front door in the very corner of the roof apex. We must have startled him on our first night and caused him to drop his dinner. He was there, without fail, every time we left and returned to our chalet. Always with his big brown eyes looking at us whilst hanging upside down. We became rather fond of him during our time at Sepilok, and named him Basil.
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Posted by TashandTim 06:11 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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